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Wildfire smoke and air quality

Smoke billows into the sky from a forest fire

This week is national Air Quality Awareness Week, and we're encouraging Minnesotans to recognize the impact of poor air quality on human health.

Wildfires are becoming larger and more frequent during the summer months in the U.S. and Canada, in part due to climate change. Warmer temperatures and persistent drought conditions make it easy for fires to start and quickly spread out of control. Smoke from these wildfires can travel thousands of miles, and Minnesota has experienced several events over the past few years where wildfire smoke from other states and Canada has produced poor air quality.

While it may produce beautiful sunsets, wildfire smoke that reaches the ground can affect our health. Wildfire smoke contains fine particles that may be harmful to sensitive groups. Air quality is measured on a color scale called the Air Quality Index. When daily average fine-particle levels reach the orange category, sensitive groups such as children, older adults, and those with respiratory conditions may feel the effects.

Minnesota’s air quality is generally good; we meet all federal standards and usually have only a handful of “bad air” days as measured by the Air Quality Index. But even pollutant levels that meet standards can affect the health of people in some areas. Healthy air is important for everyone.

Air quality forecasters at the MPCA track wildfire smoke, ozone, and other factors that affect the air we breathe, and issue alerts when air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels. See our current air quality page to stay informed and get tomorrow’s forecast. You can also get air quality forecasts for your area and receive air quality alerts by downloading the EPA's AirNow mobile app and following @mpca_aqi on Twitter.

Follow the MPCA on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about how air quality can affect your health.

Global: AQI values
AQI color Levels of concern Index values Description of air quality
Green Good 0 to 50 Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
Yellow Moderate 51 to 100 Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution. 
Orange Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups 101 to 150 People with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone. Persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air. The general public is less likely to be affected.
Red Unhealthy 151 to 200 Everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups may experience more serious effects.
Purple Very Unhealthy 201 to 300 Health alert: The risk of health effects is increased for everyone. 
Maroon Hazardous 301 to 500 Health warning of emergency conditions: Everyone is more likely to be affected.
The colors of the Air Quality Index (AQI) indicate what level of health risk current air conditions pose. When air quality gets worse, people — particularly those with asthma or other lung conditions — should limit their outdoor activities.

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